Things to look for in an art curator

Top 9 Things to Look for in an Art Curator

The full package art curator isn’t just a connoisseur of art, but the artist, and society

Things to look for in an art curator
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The word curator was once tied to the management of psychiatric patients circa the 14th century. Curating then had nothing to do with art, white gloves, or museums. 

Art curation rich history evolved from caring for people, be they children or those deemed “insane”, to caring for vast collections of art. In British English, a curator was a child’s legal guardian. In Latin, the equivalent meant “to care for” or “attend to” or “one who cares”.

A curator became the gatekeeper of artistic history and antiquated relics. And eventually according to Independent Curators International the gatekeepers, responsibility evolved from watching over people and children to museums, zoos, and libraries. Later, the art curation industry began to encompass the independent and institutional art curator. These curators can curate for universities, governments, private/independent galleries, art fairs, corporations, celebrities, and other art collectors.

The art curator has a multifaceted place on the world stage. They exist not only for the upcoming artist but for art collectors or spaces requiring the beautification only the choicest pieces can bring. The most renowned art curators are known to support upcoming artists or narrate the finest museum collections the public has known. They may exhibit at distinguished galleries such MoMA, or hip locales and annual fairs like Art Basel, and independent galleries outfitting resorts, clubs, public and private spaces. 

Here’s what to look for in an art curator: 

1 An art curator has experience 

Look for an art curator with significant experience and credentials in their field. Check to see if they worked in identifiable museums and galleries. Have they co-curated with other curators or guest-curated projects that received a lot of traction (or are in some way recognized). You may even look for curators who’ve worked with celebrities if this is your target audience. 

Experience is an extremely valuable tool for a curator. Some of the best have received extremely high honors such as international residencies and fellowships like the Venice Biennale. They may also have their hand in some controversial exhibits. Even if the curator is just starting out, look for notable internships and other forms of experience. A curator would list these in their bio or resume/CV like this. 

2 What is their education 

A curator’s education is part and parcel with their experience. Most art curators must have a Bachelor’s degree or higher. And depending on how far they want to take their curatorial work they’ll have a Masters or Ph.D. in Fine Art, Art History, Museum studies, or Museum Education. Don’t be afraid to ask a prospective curator about their studies in the arts or an equivalent. And along with their education you might find the first stop for many was museum curation. 

3 How influential are they

You want to work with a well-connected art curator. Their connections will ultimately determine your connections while your work is curated by them. Again you will notice their influence by looking at the present body of work in their care, as well as past and upcoming exhibitions and projects. 

You may also check and see if there are guest curators working with them presently and the connections those guest curators have. Think, six degrees of separation here. Connections beget influence and influence begets a wider audience and artistic talent. Quality networks cultivated by art curators are largely what separates the good curators from the great curators. It’s best to align yourself with those who align themselves with powerful organizations and people. Other support and networking opportunities for art curators can be found here.

What to look for in a curator of art
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4 An Effective Fine Art Curator Has A Dynamic And keen Eye

An art curator should display a variety in their collections. Look for multicultural and dynamic art collections in their care. Do you uncover multiple forms of the same art in their collections? Do you only notice portraiture or abstract works? Do you see abstract, mixed media, photography, and sculpture?  Are some of their collections international or are they all national? Do you find that all the artists seem similar? 

These are all questions that will answer whether or not a curator has range. It can be stifling for the art curator and the artist that find themselves in the company of a halfhearted curation. A spirited and perceptive eye adds to a collection as well as the discipline of art curation as a whole. Furthermore, it makes it difficult for onlookers to say that curating is an easy job. Some of the greatest curators, however, make it look effortless. 

5 Do They Have A Digital Curatorial Voice

Technology has changed the way audiences see art, which inevitably changes the platforms art traverses. Consider the many ways people are able to see art in their environments such as trains, brick walls, recreation centers/parks, or stickers in a light pole in an art district. 

These same variations in public spaces can be seen in digital spaces. Social media as a purveyor of artistic voices, presents a new channel for the art curator to master. Look for an art curator with a digital presence, one utilizing the power of social media and technology as a means to reach the audiences who will latch on to the work you are giving voice to. They might have an Instagram, Youtube Channel or Artist Archive.

Check for digital catalogs like this one. Curators should be using multiple forms of technology to give exposure to their collections, such as video gallery tours, digital catalogs, and social media posts. Curators and museums alike have to break down any barriers to the art in their collections going beyond the gallery walls and the website itself. Today audiences see art more often by viewing pieces from digital spaces.

6 Curators Have Real Knowledge About The Artwork In Their Collections 

You know an art curator when you see one because their knowledge of their collections will not be superficial. Look for depth and breadth of knowledge. Does the art curator know the history of the work in their care? What narration can they provide in terms of what the work is seeking to convey? 

7 Great Care for The Fine Artworks, Artists, And Conversations Surrounding The Art And Audience

Look for an art curator who takes great care of the work in their possession. If you are in a gallery what do you see? What condition is the work in? How is the curator’s attention to detail during installation? How is their attention to detail in regards to the labels next to the artwork? Do these labels assist with helping gallery or exhibition viewers understand the work, as the work connects to society at large? When posing questions to the curator about a piece are they seasoned in the artwork and artist history? Is the gallery erected in a way that makes the work easy to view, pause, take in, and discuss? 

8 Commitment To The Fine Art Curator Career

Because the art curator industry is in a constant state of evolution. Curating can sometimes be volatile. You want to work with a curator who is secure in this notion and is committed to their work. Oftentimes the number of years a curator has been in the industry will indicate their level of commitment. This is especially so when those years span across difficult times globally and specifically for the arts. Like recessions, budget cuts, or other deterrents that can make art curation difficult. 

What to look for in an art curator
Photo by Ricardo Gomez Angel on Unsplash

9 Curators are Storytellers

As much as art curators are responsible for choosing artwork selectively, they must also know how to tell the story of the pieces. The story does not stop and start with the labeling but involves the proper display of the work as well. The organization of the different artworks is incredibly important to how the work is received by viewers. Is the piece under a spotlight? What color are the walls? Is there a lot of white space around the piece? How far is each piece away from the next?

The way a piece is featured in a gallery is just as important as how the piece is written about and cataloged. This unhurried approach to curating means inspired conversations and rousing new artworks. The curator’s ability to give voice to a multi-disciplinary, multi-medium, body of artistic expressions is essential. This kind of rich curation is what gives back to the art world. 

And more than ever, the art curators task is to bridge the artist, their collections, and history with the global public through curatorial storytelling and careful selection. This detailed and deliberate conservation of yesteryear and the present can tell prolific stories. While also giving the most promising artist a platform to share social perspectives that forever mark human history.

Fowle, K. (2007). “Cautionary Tales: Who cares? Understanding the role of the art curator today,” Independent Curators International,p. 10-19.
Proctor, N (2010). “ Digital: Museum as Platform, Curator as Champion, in the Age of Social Media,” Networked Curator: Curator, 53(1), p.35-43.